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What Is the Miss Juneteenth Pageant?

Miss Juneteenth Is a Fictional Film, but It Highlights a Real Celebration of Black Beauty

In Miss Juneteenth, actress Nicole Beharie stars as Turquoise Jones, a single mom and former beauty queen who is readying her teenage daughter (played by Alexis Chikaeze) to follow in her footsteps and compete in a Miss Juneteeth pageant. Though the story is fictional, the film, directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, highlights a very real celebration of Black beauty that's been around for years.

Juneteenth is a holiday that was created to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Texas two years after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. As evidenced by its name — which is a blend of the words "June" and "19th" — the holiday normally falls on June 19 and is celebrated in several cities throughout the US with a corresponding pageant. Aside from honouring the holiday, the Miss Juneteenth pageant was created as a way to educate young Black women on their history. The main event is usually held in Fort Worth, TX, though dozens of other cities have held versions of it as well.

According to an official form detailing its guidelines and eligibility requirements, the pageant's main mission is to "provide a forum for young women to enhance their self-esteem, explore self-expression, and provide areas for personal and development training." Competitors are usually aged 15 to 18 and judged in five categories: an essay competition, a talent competition, a question-and-answer segment, an eveningwear presentation, and how many overall tickets they can sell for the event. The winner is usually awarded a scholarship to further her education, though it's not clear how much the scholarships total.

Outside of providing these young women with tools to succeed, the event also encourages them to celebrate their beauty in a world where they're constantly scrutinized and held to unrealistic, Eurocentric beauty standards. The Fort Worth Miss Juneteenth pageant was originally slated to be held this year on June 8, though with many states shutting down large events to slow the spread of COVID-19, it doesn't appear to have moved forward. Still, you can check out the film in select theatres and on-demand on June 19.

Image Source: Everett Collection
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